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Lethal Combat: HBO–STAR Movies wrangle over leadership gets aggressive

13-October-2004
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Lethal Combat: HBO–STAR Movies wrangle over leadership gets aggressive

While it is difficult to label one Hindi movie channel as the leader, case with the English movie channels also isn’t much different. By virtue of it being a primarily title-driven category, it is not wrong to say that a channel is as good as the last movie it has shown.

If numbers are anything to go by, in the year 2004 itself, top seven out of the 10 movies are from the HBO stable with the top three in a row. Put together HBO and STAR Movies and it would be nothing less than a lethal combat, going by the channel share. Taking a look into the figures, one would see while weeks 24, 26 and 28 place HBO at the top, weeks 29 to 33 have STAR Movies claiming the top slot – and giving way to HBO again in week 34.

Fluctuation of fortunes for the two English movie channels clearly indicates massive fragmentation in the category. Of course, the movie channels are aware of this and the plan of action is simple – inducing innovative ways of showcasing movies.

For HBO, the year began with ‘The Big One’ slot. It has constantly delivered for the channel, beginning with ‘Spiderman’, which till date is the top English movie shown in 2004, to ‘Stuart Little 2’, which came in to occupy the Number 2 position in the category.

“I think the success of the slot lies in the fact that competition copied it,” remarks, Jonathan Spink, CEO, HBO Asia, “But as we say internally, it takes two movies from competition to match up one from HBO.”

In answer to HBO’s ‘The Big One’, STAR Movies has introduced ‘The Big Two’ slot this month. Sharing more on the initiative, Ajay Vidyasagar, Head, Marketing and Communication, STAR India, expresses, “Big Two is a need that came through a lot of research. It is a big weekend that we are promoting every month and the premier begins with a title like Daredevil.”

However, substantial amount of activities are lined up on both the channels. For STAR Movies, after Big Two, coming up is ‘100 million Dollar Hit’, where the channel will air movies that have grossed over $ 100 million at the box office. “We have good relationships with production houses worldwide and that enables us preparing a strong library,” says Vidyasagar.

There is equal if not more coming from HBO for its viewers. Elucidates Spink, “We are seriously looking at the option of taking up movies that are immensely popular with the Indian audience and airing them in languages. For instance, movies like ‘The Mummy’, which we aired in Hindi for our Sunday afternoon audience, delivered very well for us.”

Titles and the manner of presentation is not the only area where the channels compete fiercely. When HBO is offering its original series like ‘Band of Brothers’, ‘Sex and the City’, STAR Movies is working out a counter – the recent in the fray being ‘Carnivale’ on HBO and ‘The Grid’ on STAR Movies.

However, media experts are of the opinion that there isn’t much that these initiatives change with the advertisers. Says Gautam Rajgopal, Manager, Broadcast Investments, Starcom, “It is the titles that matter. I would go for a title like ‘Spiderman’, even if it was happening on AXN. There is no loyalty per se, when it comes to movie channels.”

Amol Dighe, Investment Director, MindShare Fulcrum, adds, “Good titles in the category don’t come very often. At the end of the day, all depends on the rates that you are getting.”

How important is the role of series on movie channels? Rajgopal replies, “Nothing in terms of ratings. ‘Band of Brothers’ delivered but the channel had promoted that heavily. If you look at examples like ‘Sex and the City’, the audience is too niche.”

“The attempt with series is to induce a consistent appointment viewing,” says Dighe, “But if you look at numbers, it has been difficult for movie channels to achieve it. HBO does manage it to a large extent but it also has strong properties to showcase in that case.”

Not too many fish in this small pond, but with the size of prime English audience increasing by the day, English movie channels indeed are trying to show their might in the niche segment. Both HBO and STAR Movies are trying to keep the audiences glued and advertisers lured. Viewers are also not complaining – who would have thought just a couple of years back that a slew of mega Hollywood movies on Indian television.

(Ratings are calculated on the CS ABC 15+ for the all India market)

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